October 29, 2011 by Irish Peloton
When is a reliable source reliable?
My Dad is a professional musician. He’s played the fiddle and mandolin on stage with the likes of Rory Gallagher, The Pogues, Van Morrison and The Waterboys. Recently he noticed that his name was listed on the Wikipedia page about the mandolin as a noteworthy Irish mandolinist.
His name, ‘Paul Kelly‘, was listed as one of those red Wikipedia links that don’t go anywhere, because there was no ‘Paul Kelly’ Wikipedia page. Consequently, he asked me to make one for him. So I did.
Almost immediately, it was deleted. According to one of the millions of faceless Wikipedia Nazis, my Dad was actually not ‘noteworthy’ enough to warrant his own Wikipedia page.
This claim by the deleting Wikipedian was mainly due to my lack of sources. I couldn’t prove that Des Carty taught Paul how to play Irish traditional music (even though I knew Des because he taught me too). I couldn’t prove that Paul won an award for being All-Ireland Banjo champion in 1975 despite the fact that I was looking at the award on the wall of his front room as I typed it. I couldn’t prove that he helped to form the band Rusty Old Halo with the singer/songwriter Mick Hanly, even though I had been out drinking with the pair of them the week before and heard stories told of exactly that.
Despite knowing all of this, I couldn’t prove any of it because none of it is on the internet.
This brings me in a rather roundabout way to the curious case of Levi Leipheimer. The veteran American cyclist won the U.S. national criterium championship in 1996. He subsequently tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of the title.
This incident is now listed on his Wikipedia page, but for a long time it wasn’t. The internet was still in its infancy in 1996, as such there was not the wealth of information on relatively minor cycling races like there is these days.
The original source information which the original editor of his page referred to was an article which appeared in the defunct cycling magazine ‘Winning’. This reference was not enough, so the information on the doping positive was deleted.
A user then found a cached version of ‘Winning’ magazine’s online site containing details of the story and re-updated the Wikipedia article. Again this was considered insufficient and was deleted.
Only after information was compiled from ‘Winning’ magazine, the Velonews website, an online source quoting the Leipheimer family confirming the story and a pdf from US cycling confirming that Leipheimer was not actually deemed the winner of this event, did the original deleters reluctantly allow the information on the doping positive to remain on the Wikipedia page.
The deleters constantly argued that ‘a truly reliable source (well respected newspaper/magazine/journal)’ was required for this story to remain on the page. All of this revisionism is available to view on the ‘Discussion’ tab on Leipheimer’s Wikipedia page.
So what is a truly reliable source these days? Is a printed magazine from the 1980s with a professional editorial process no longer reliable because it is not viewable on the internet? What if cyclingnews.com had taken its information from the same source as the original poster and written a story about it, would it then become reliable?
One of the comments on the Leipheimer discussion tab says that for a biography of a living person you must have ‘verifiable references, blogs are emphatically not acceptable’.
I am, unashamedly, a blogger. I blog about cycling. I have been fortunate enough to build up a decent reputation and stats and facts that I come up with now are (for the most part) taken on face value. I have found pieces of trivia that I’ve composed appear on the SkySports website, the Guardian website and the print version of the Irish Examiner.
I know they got the pieces of trivia from me because I emailed the journalists in question and asked them. I also know that in each case, the authors didn’t verify the piece of trivia that they had used. So because facts I concocted are now printed in a number of well respected ‘newspapers/magazines/journals’ – are the pieces of trivia more true now than when I came up with them? Despite the fact that they weren’t double checked by the ‘reliable source’ for accuracy?
This blog would not be allowable as a source on a Wikipedia page, but Skysports.com, theguardian.co.uk and the Irish Examiner most certainly would.
Is the fact more true now because the people writing for the reliable sources are qualified journalists and I am not? I know cycling journalists who have no journalism qualification. I know bloggers who have been paid to write about cycling.
Or was the piece of trivia actually true in the first place because the ‘reliable source’ has now become the unashamed blogger?